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Alessandro Bragonzi, Head of the Regional Representation for the Western Balkans at the European Investment Bank (EIB)

Faster Progress Needed

Western Balkan countries endorsed the Green Agenda, thus aligning with the European Green Deal for decarbonisation and environmental protection. EIB Global supports their efforts to accelerate change

The EU is ramping up support for regional economies to accelerate the shift to renewable energy and promote environmental sustainability mostly via the EU Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III). Through initiatives like the Economic and Investment Plan and the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, the EU is providing increased financial and technical assistance. EIB Global, the arm of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group operating beyond the EU, plays a significant role by boosting its financing for green investments as a key contributor to these efforts.

“During the 2020 Sofia Summit, Western Balkan countries achieved a significant milestone by endorsing the Declaration on the Green Agenda. This commitment signifies their dedication to decarbonisation, environmental protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation, in line with the European Green Deal. However, the latest implementation report reveals that most regional economies are still in the process of developing their legal frameworks to tackle climate issues and harmonise with the EU Climate Law by 2025. They have established energy and climate goals within their nationally determined contributions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. However, more needs to be done,” says Alessandro Bragonzi, Head of Regional Representation for the Western Balkans at the European Investment Bank (EIB).

What do you consider as being gamechangers in Serbia’s transition to renewable energy over the past two years?

— Serbia has clearly achieved progress on its obligations as an Energy Community Contracting Party with various elements of its regulations, particularly for renewables and energy efficiency. In 2023, the country presented its draft Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan, which envisages the share of renewable energy sources in gross final electricity consumption rising from 30% in 2021 to 45% by 2030. The country is also finalising preparations for its first Climate Change Adaptation programme.

The first auction for Contracts for difference (CfD) for wind and solar power plants which was successfully realized in 2023, and will increase private investors’ appetite to develop renewables, promoting competition and cost-effectiveness into the electricity market. Moreover, the Electric Power industry of Serbia (EPS) started on a de-carbonisation plan, which is adding new production capacity from renewables. This includes the construction its first wind power plant – Kostolac, as well as procurement process for developing GWs of greenfield wind and solar power plants.

What role does innovation play in the green transition?

— The EIB has made green supporting innovative green technologies one of its priorities under the Energy Lending Policy, as part of its contribution to the REPowerEU Plan to ensure Europe’s energy independence and security. Scaling up innovative solutions will not only help meet climate targets, but will also support competitiveness, strengthen energy security and create new jobs.

For example, we are now supporting ground-breaking battery technologies, gigafactories, floating windfarms, green hydrogen and innovation in sectors that are currently tough to decarbonise, such as steel manufacturing or shipping.

EIB global supports the development of onshore windfarm projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a solar photovoltaic plant near Pristina and the improvement of electricity grids, alongside new projects in the sectors of sustainable transportation and water management

Furthermore, as of 2023, we are managing the European Tech Champions Initiative, which seeks to mobilise investments of over €10 billion in innovative companies in their growth stage.

In Serbia, EIB Global has provided €200 million of EU funds for upgrading and rehabilitating universities, scientific centres and laboratories, as well as for the construction of Science and Technology Parks in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš. EIB funding also enabled the construction of the cutting-edge BioSense Institute in Novi Sad, which is among the global leaders in the digitalisation of agriculture and innovation.

How effectively are innovative initiatives from private and public enterprises, research institutions, local governments and civil society organisations in Serbia being fostered and promoted as positive examples of a new economic growth path?

— It is difficult to estimate, but certainly more needs to be done to promote positive examples and raise awareness of the importance of joint efforts in achieving a more sustainable and greener future. For example, the EU is the largest donor to the Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia through the Serbia Accelerating Innovation project and Growth Entrepreneurship (SAIGE). This project focuses on building the capacity of the Fund and supporting the excellence and relevance of science and research for the national economy.

With regard to the initiatives EIB Global is involved in, we can mention innovative green projects under the auspices of the EU for the Green Agenda in Serbia programme, which aim to financially support new green concepts developed locally. These projects aim to deploy new technologies for tackling waste management, air pollution, environment protection and the integration of renewable energy into production processes.

The initiative is supported financially by the EU and implemented by the UNDP and the Serbian Ministry of Environmental Protection, in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden and the EIB, with additional funding from the governments of Sweden, Switzerland and Serbia.

Can we see indications in the Western Balkans and Serbia of the trend seen in Europe whereby investments in environmental protection, climate measures and the adoption of ESG standards are driving the creation of new jobs?

— According to the World Economic Forum, the jobs expected to grow the fastest are for specialists in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, sustainability specialists, business intelligence analysts and information security specialists. At the global level, estimates show an increase in renewable energy employment from 7.3 million in 2012 to 13.7 million in 2022, and this trend is set to continue.

At the same time, we also need to strengthen our efforts to support a just transition, which means providing new jobs and opportunities to people and communities hardest hit by climate policies, such as the closures of coal mines and fossil fuel power plants.

How well has Serbia’s education system embraced the introduction to the curricula of digital and green skills?

— A successful digital and green innovation requires a suitably skilled labour force. However, across Europe, the large skills gap is hindering economic transformation and productivity growth. As an example, a mere 35% of Western Balkan citizens had at least basic digital skills in 2021, compared to 54% in the EU (according to the Regional Cooperation Council).

In Serbia, EIB Global supported the Connected Schools project with €70 million, resulting in over 3,800 schools being equipped with high-speed internet access and thus enabling over 730,000 students and 100,000 teachers to learn and work in a modern digital environment. More recently, EIB has been among the key financiers of Serbia’s dual education strategy, with a €40 million loan to build, renovate and equip educational facilities across the country.

TASKS

Further improvements are needed in monitoring air quality, water management and industrial pollution, as well as in adopting just transition strategies

BARRIERS

As the largest venture debt investor in Europe, we are committed to breaking down investment barriers for new technologies by providing capital to bridge financing gaps

TRANSITION

EIB adopted a new just transition approach in 2023, in order to ensure enhanced support for countries around the world, including Serbia, in the energy transition process

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